As we reach the middle of term and those bitter, cold Leeds nights greet us again, students everywhere are already fully immersed in essays, exams and the new John Lewis Christmas advert. This hectic time of year means that many may not have heard of a significant dispute being fought between vice-chancellor Sir Alan Langlands and Leeds University academics over a proposed change to their pension scheme.
Academics from Leeds have now joined York, Sheffield and Imperial amongst other ‘pre-92’ universities in initiating a university wide boycott which will directly affect the whole student populous. Lecturers are keen to stress that this is a boycott and not a strike. While lectures and seminars will continue as usual, members of the union will now cease marking or setting assignments until the dispute is resolved. The knock on effect is that midterms and submitted assessments will not be marked, and that familiar game of ‘What Do I Need For a 2.1?’ will become even more clouded.
UUK intend to make significant changes to the pension scheme which, according to the UCU (University and College Union), will lead to “the loss of thousands of pounds every year”- changes that have been described as “devastating”. One lecturer, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that he hoped the action “stresses the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in”.
In response, a student wide email from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Student Education Vivien Jones, stated that she was “extremely disappointed that the UCU has decided to take industrial action”.
And so here we are – stuck in the middle. The sole bargaining chip of panicked professors. We have unions and vice-chancellors locked in battle, as if trying to demonstrate modern Marxist theory through avant-garde interactive teaching.
So whose side should we be on? Well it doesn’t take a big leap of logic to realise that most academics aren’t in it for the money. As someone who previously spent a short amount of time at a ‘newer’ university, whose lecturers could be described at best as lacklustre, here at Leeds we have at our disposal academics at the forefront of their fields, with students at the forefront of their concerns.
The University staff I’ve met are hardworking, engaging and passionate about their subject. That may not be the case for you, but it has been the case for me and many others across my programme. It probably isn’t the most glamorous job, and not every lecturer has the Brian Cox ‘star’ quality to make the primetime TV crossover, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve security. To initiate such drastic actions offer a clear indication that our lecturers have been backed into a corner, and ultimately it is our responsibility to offer them our support. If paying 9k a year for our studies was bad enough, then just imagine if the standard of teaching then dropped too – leaving us deep in debt but without the justification of a world class degree.
It probably isn’t the most glamorous job but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve security.
And that’s exactly what our degree is – world class. The QS World University Rankings places Leeds in the Top 100 globally. We didn’t get that place by having a top quality gym or by serving a range of local ales in Old Bar. We got there on the strength of the research our academics produce in their respective fields. Take that away and our global standing is weakened. Without satisfied staff, the entire institution of the University ceases to function as well.
Maybe I’m naive but I don’t believe academics would stop doing a part of their job unless they felt they had no other choice. Whilst our Vice Chancellor received a reported salary of £313,000 in 2010/11, plus a 5.1 per cent increase in salary this year alone, it’s fair to say not everyone is feeling the squeeze. So while it would be easy to direct our anger at our tutors, we need to offer them our collective support. The sooner they get the security they deserve, the sooner we can get back to complaining about their harsh marking and early office hours.